Photo Credit: Joe McMurray
Few would hold it against you if the name Chris Cohen doesn’t ring any bells. The Los Angeles native is the type of restless musician whose involvement with various better-known projects over the years has overshadowed a brilliant, more recent solo career. With a lustrous sophomore release that puts a modern spin on the ’70s AM singer-songwriter mold, Cohen is making a great argument for why you should get to know his name.
Throughout the early 2000s, Cohen recorded and performed with The Curtains, a San Francisco-based group whose jazz and electronic-influenced sound eventually made way for more melodically-focused pop fare. Around that same time, he joined the fellow S.F. experimentalists in Deerhoof on guitar, taking part in recording several critically acclaimed albums before parting ways with the band in 2006. Soon after, he began supplying his talents as a touring member for songwriters Ariel Pink (as part of his Haunted Graffiti band) and Cass McCombs.
Now, splitting his time between others’ bands and musical outlets of his own, Cohen maintains that each brings its own sort of fulfillment. “I like playing the instruments and producing for other people's songs, but I also love to write and sing my own,” he says, conceding that “right now I’m mostly working on my own.” That follow-up seems like a bit of an understatement; Cohen recorded every instrument on his latest solo album, As If Apart, by himself.
Written and recorded over a nearly three-year span, As If Apart is a distinctly different type of record than those recorded under his Curtains moniker. “I wanted to write different types of songs—songs that had fewer parts and fewer key changes. So, that dictated a certain amount,” says Cohen. And although his jazz influence remains present across its 10 tracks, there’s an incredibly accessible element to the album that naturally lends itself to some easy listening.
As one can imagine, there’s a wide range of thoughts and feelings that accompany the creative process when there’s just one person behind the wheel.
“It's lonely sometimes, but also very fun. I get into the music and don't have to communicate with anyone verbally until it’s done, so that's great,” says Cohen, adding that his mind ran the gamut from “this is terrible’” to “I love this” to “let's try something else” while working on the record. Regardless, he maintains that confidence in the material was key—he just didn’t know how long it would take to finish.
As If Apart clearly expresses this range. There’s the initial bustling excitement of album opener “Torrey Pine,” the somber meditation of “Memory” and the collected reflection of “Yesterday’s On My Mind.” While the record—his second for New York indie Captured Tracks—shares sonic traits with his labelmates and possesses a uniquely vintage California sound, Cohen’s trademark is really all his own.
“The people who listen will have their opinions and descriptions,” he says. “My music fits perfectly into my weird mishmash world, making sense to me without genre tag words. I synthesize music from my favorites, then filter them through myself.”
With his musical idiosyncrasies firmly in place and album No. 2 available to the world, the next logical step is touring, with a stop at Go Bar this Saturday. For a guy who writes and records his own records, Cohen describes his live band as really just “friends from before.” “The touring band is always people I like… I’d never ask someone to play who I didn’t want to spend time with,” he says.
The whole experience—writing, recording, giving interviews and touring—can be consuming. How does one find reprieve? “What I’m most looking forward to is playing, but I also wanna stop for some swims along the way,” says Cohen. “If anyone has good tips in Georgia, hit me up on Facebook!”
Athens, show the man some true Southern hospitality.
CHRIS COHEN Captured Tracks musician and Deerhoof/Ariel Pink collaborator performs a set of his psych-pop. See story on p. 15.
POTTED PLANT Experimental pop project fronted by local artist Zannie Owens.
MANS TRASH Skewed pop sounds from Mercer West (The Dream Scene, Bubbly Mommy Gun).
SALSA CHEST Local experimental electronic group.
HALF ACID Greg O'Connell experiments with synths and talk boxes.